214 is Number 1

Regional public transportation took a significant new step forward today as the Capital Metro board of directors approved an agreement with Cedar Park to partner on bus service to their city: Route 214 Northwest Flex. It will be considered by the Cedar Park City Council next week and would begin operation on January 18th. The agreement and the route itself are pretty innovative. First a little background on the agreement.

Capital Metro’s service area covers an area of around 500 square miles and represents the cities and parts of counties where residents approved a sales tax for public transportation service. The service area does not cover all of the cities in our region since some areas either chose not to participate or withdrew after initially becoming a member. Cedar Park is one of the cities that withdrew about 10 years ago.

In 2008 we saw the need to do what we could to get public transportation to cities that are not part of the Capital Metro taxing area, because the transit needs don’t stop at the service area boundary.  So we developed a Service Expansion Policy that cleared the way for us to work with progressive cities like Cedar Park to provide public transportation. 

We pay for the part of the route in our service area and they pay for the part in their city. The agreement also credits Cedar Park with the portion of federal transit funds that come to the region based upon Cedar Park’s population and density. The intent was to provide customers with service that is a part of the bigger public transportation system with connections to other areas, common schedules and fares and customer information services that our website and call center provide.

Route 214 is going to be a flex route which means passengers up to ¾ mile from the route can request a pick up and the bus can go get them. This greatly expands the reach of the route and makes it more efficient in suburban settings. The route’s western point is in Lago Vista (a Capital Metro member city) and its eastern point is Capital Metro Lakeline Station where there are bus and MetroRail connections to the rest of the service area. In between, the route goes through Jonestown (another member city) and into Cedar Park to provide access to shopping, the Cedar Park Regional Medical Center and the Austin Community College campus.

The Cedar Park agreement is the first of what we hope will be many others, because the need for public transportation doesn’t stop at city boundaries.

[**Update: The Cedar Park City Council did not take final action at its Dec. 16 meeting. Capital Metro will move forward with Route 214 to provide flex service between Lakeline Station and the cities of Lago Vista and Jonestown.]

21 thoughts on “214 is Number 1

  1. Paul K McGregor

    I find it quite ironic how cities like Rollingwood, West Lake Hills, Cedar Park and Pflugerville were all part of Capital Metro paying their one cent sales tax to support a regional transit system. Now all of a sudden, they want back in to transit service for their own communities but what they pay in will not help support the regional system. I suppose this method could also be used for cities that have maxed out their sales tax.

    I will also be interested to see how Cedar Park would be charged for a rail station and their portion of operating cost. Would the cost reach a point where the city could not meet the cost out of their general revenue and that some kind of supplemental tax would have to be imposed to cover the ultimate cost. Interesting possibilities. . .

  2. This is a better deal for Cedar Park, and a much worse deal for Austin, both metro and city than the old state of affairs. Unfortunately, this meets the most commonly applied definition of “regionalism” around here – which is basically “Austin, take a hit for the benefit of the suburbs, and get nothing in return, thanks”.

  3. Brad

    These sorts of deals make me nervous as well. I supposed if it get good ridership than it might be worth it, but there are parts of the actual service area that could use attention. I know a lot of the folks in Oak Hill where I live weren’t happy with the changes to the Oak Hill Flyer, then again, when I’ve seen that bus, it’s not very full, so I don’t know how much right there is to complain.

    This is pure speculation, but could this be a foot in the door in Cedar Park to build confidence in Cap Metro and possibly bring them back into the service area?

    1. Doug Allen

      This route exists today as a regular fixed route but it doesn’t currently stop in Cedar Park. This is a good arrangement for both Cedar Park and our member cities because with this agreement people living in Lago Vista, Jonestown and other Capital Metro member cities will be able to get to stores, medical services and the ACC campus in Cedar Park by public transportation.

    2. Tom Thayer

      The Oak Hill Flyer is often full or almost full when I ride. The other day it was actually standing room only, although that is rare when gas is cheap.

      Cap Metro cut some service to the tail end of the route, which goes through some of the neighborhoods along US 290/SH 71. It certainly isn’t unusual for the tail ends of bus routes to have fewer riders. Cap Metro originally wanted to cut all the neighborhood routes, which would have forced everyone to get in their vehicles to ride the bus. The Oak Hill Park and Ride is almost inaccessible safely by foot and bike from most of the nearby neighborhoods.

      1. Brad

        Tom,

        I agree the Oak Hill Transit center is really difficult to get to. I’ll take your word for it that the Oak Hill flyer is pretty full. When I’ve seen it it seems pretty empty, but I don’t see that often. I don’t work downtown, so I havent had to take it. The 333 William Cannon route is almost always empty when I see it role through my neighborhood, but it probably gets better ridership the further east it goes.

        If/when they get the Oak Hill Town center going the ridership in the area will hopefully improve and they can build a legitmate transit center.

  4. Erik

    Lago Vista has a population of 4500 with a median average household wage of 57k. Only 3.5% of the population is below the poverty line. Compare that to Austin which is has median of 42k and 14.4% below the poverty line. That being said, how many riders do you estimate from this route? What’s the incurred operating expense to Austin taxpayers?

    1. Paul K McGregor

      I would hope that the amount of sales tax revenue that Lago Vista contributes would be enough to cover the cost of the service which would, in turn, not cost taxpayers of Austin anything.

      1. Correct, Cedar Park would cover the costs to provide the bus service within the city of Cedar Park (although it’s not through the traditional method of paying the 1% sales tax–if the Cedar Park City Council also approves the plan, we’ll enter into an interlocal agreement to provide the service over the next year. They would pay us $116,858–which covers the cost of providing the service and the construction of the bus stops.)

    2. There’s no additional expense to Austin taxpayers. That’s the beauty of the service expansion policy: it allows non-member cities to pay for a service a la carte. Cedar Park is paying for the cost to operate the route within Cedar Park.

      Right now, #214 (without the Cedar Park stops), gets 80-100 riders per day. The initial goal is to see 20 riders getting on or off the bus at one of the Cedar Park stops.

  5. The claim that there is no additional expense to Austin taxpayers is unlikely to be true. Some 214 riders will transfer to other routes, where they will ride despite no funding having been given by Cedar Park taxpayers for that service.

    Of course, some Cedar Park residents today are riding even more expensive services like the Red Line, and getting subsidized by Austin taxpayers to the tune of $30/ride.

    In other words, this change doesn’t really change the subsidy equation, much, but it also makes it look like Cedar Park is funding their way, when they pretty clearly are not.

    1. Erik

      Nobody is doubting the need for regional transit expansion. Most of the discussion in this thread is about adequate compensation from these municipalities into CapMetro’s coffer.

      1. Exactly. Especially since the roads part of the picture is already a massive subsidy from urban areas to suburban areas; transit should not be exacerbating this, but Capital Metro appears determined to make it so – with rail service that benefits only suburbanites (and will never benefit urban residents, not ever) coming at the cost of local bus cuts that actually benefit the Austin residents who pay almost all of the bills.

  6. Erik

    You’d think CM would at least put out a press release to try and do damage control. Clearly they’d rather just give the impression that everything’s roses and avoid “negative” press like the plague. You as an organization can express frustration publicly, you can defend your criticized actions publicly — you are comprised of humans like us after all. Transparency this is not.

    1. chrysrobyn

      Erik- Agreed. Starting with explaining that the money CapMetro gets for Cedar Park is used to help pay for the Red Line that an estimated 50-500 (feel free to use a real number) Cedar Park residents use on a regular basis. Maybe how many Cedar Park residents go to the Lakeline P&R and use bus service there (1000?). It seems like most of the meeting was hung up on this $600,000 figure, and I can come up with two easy explanations. An average of $60,000 per year can go several directions.

      1. Brad

        I agree as well. It seems that cap metro would want to publicly defend itself against some of what was said by the Cedar Park city council.

    2. Difficult position for CM’s people. Even those that don’t honestly believe that “regionalism” means we should do whatever the suburbs want us to do know their board wants them to pretend that.

  7. Pingback: Update on Cedar Park Bus Service « Capital MetroBlog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s